Today the Department of Health and Social Care released the latest abortion figures for England and Wales. In total, 214,869 abortions took place in 2021. This is the highest number ever recorded in England and Wales. It's also an increase of 4,009 from 2020.
This significant increase has accompanied the first full year that 'DIY' abortions were available in England and Wales. The overall total of abortions across the UK since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967 has now reached nearly 10 million. That is a staggering and heartbreaking statistic for our society to reckon with.
There's so much that needs to be said in response to such figures. But I suspect they will largely be ignored by the media and politicians. Abortion is one of those policy debates that simply isn't had in this country. People would rather bury their heads in the sand than engage with what's happening. Especially given the febrile nature of discussions on this topic.
From a Christian perspective, abortion deeply grieves the heart of God. We affirm the absolute value of life, from the point of conception through to its natural end. The single greatest theological argument for life being valuable from conception is the incarnation. God Himself became an embryo, a pre-born baby in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
Our society fails to dignify pre-born babies as made in the image of God and it undermines the dignity of women as well. Abortion doesn't just impact the life of the pre-born baby; it also impacts the mum. There's evidence suggesting that having an abortion can leave a mum struggling with guilt and mental health problems.
As a Church, we must respond. We need to recognise firstly that the numbers of abortion will only increase until laws change, and hearts change. The current trajectory is towards making abortion even more available. Some MPs want it to be 'decriminalised' completely, thereby removing the last legal protections for preborn babies. We ought to challenge this, strongly.
In opposing abortion, and agitating for positive reform, we must engage with the wider reasons why abortions take place. It's not enough just to campaign on the streets, or outside clinics. I think the most effective response involves supporting groups that seek to counsel women going through crisis pregnancies, and calling for broader changes in many different areas, to make having children easier.
We must also to look at the economic factors that make having children and keeping them so prohibitively expensive. We need to champion the role of grandparents and wider family in childcare responsibilities. We need to make sure women who experience crisis pregnancies also know there are other options to a termination. We need to consider the widest possible ways to stop abortions.
If churches don't have enough resources to run a crisis pregnancy centre, or something similar, perhaps we can consider supporting the work of others? Or donating to organisations involved in the pro-life cause. Historically, Christians were at the forefront of efforts to end infanticide – something as normalised in the ancient world as abortion is in ours.
The key to changing ancient peoples' views on infanticide was the way Christians conducted themselves. They put themselves at risk of scorn from wider society by having a care for vulnerable babies who were considered unwanted. And they even chose to sacrifice their own resources – their time, their money, their homes – to save lives.
Given the scale of abortions in England and Wales, and the wider UK, this is one of the most profound issues facing the Church today. We should all be asking ourselves what more we can do to stand up for truth, and for the vulnerable, in a gracious and winsome manner. At CARE, this has always been our mission, and this will continue, God-willing, in decades to come.
James Mildred is the Director of Communications and Engagement at CARE